PITTSBURGH, Pa (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Women make up 51 percent of America’s population, but across the country, fewer than 25 percent of the state legislative seats are held by women. On the national level, in congress, that number drops to less than 18 percent. There’s an effort underway to train younger women how to overcome the challenges of a political campaign.
At republican headquarters in Monmouth County, New Jersey the political season is heating up. But for Caroline Casagrande, it’s business as usual. There has been no down time since she became the youngest woman ever elected to the New Jersey state legislature. That was eight years ago. She was 29-years -old.
Casagrande told Ivanhoe, “Everybody always says, how did you get there so young? Part of it was because I was willing to do that work, and didn’t really mind what was coming at me.”
The Center for American Women and Politics has tracked women’s role in the political process since 1971.
Debbie Walsh, Director of the Center for American Women and Politics told Ivanhoe, “What we started to see in the mid 90’s, particularly looking at the state legislative level, and even at the congressional level, we saw it kind of flat lining in the number of women running for office. We also know from our research that women are much more likely to run if they are asked, if they are recruited.”
That’s why the center developed “Ready to Run” — a program designed to recruit women and teach them how to overcome campaign obstacles, like fundraising.
Walsh said, “They might not have those same networks of money that men do; it might take them 10 phone calls to raise a thousand dollars, while a man might raise that money in one or two calls.”
Of all the women who go through the “Ready to Run” program, 40 percent decide to run for office. Of those, 70 percent win.
“It really does help launch women on their political careers,” said Walsh.
Casagrande told Ivanhoe, “I’ve actually never run a single election where my opponents didn’t have at least three times as much money as me.”
Casagrande says she counters that by working three times as hard. She knocked on more than 12,000 doors in her first campaign.
“You can have a better message; you can stand there and look people in the eye, and money can never buy those things,” Casagrande explained.
The eve of her first election coincided with the news that she and her husband were expecting their first child. And balancing her growing family, with her budding career, was both a blessing and a challenge.
She said, “It’s not an easy life, and you don’t make a lot of money. I always joke, it’s the hardest job I’ve ever had for 49 grand a year. But I would probably do it for free because I believe so much in what we do.” And that kind of passion is what made her stand up, when others told her to sit back down.
In New Jersey’s most recent election, Caroline Casagrande lost her bid for office. Some political analysts called the loss “voter backlash” against the administration of republican Governor Chris Christie. Also, the region Casagrande represented was redistricted, putting more democrats than republicans in her region. Both are factors that are pretty tough to overcome.
Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Field Producer; Cortni Spearman, Assistant Producer and Brent Sucher, Editor and Kirk Manson, Videographer.